Book Review: The Russian Army in the Great War: The Eastern Front, 1914-1917

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by David R. Stone

Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2015. Pp. viii, 360. Illus., maps, bibliographic essay, index. $34.95. ISBN: 0700620958

The Tsar’s Last Army

Prof. Stone (Naval War College) has written extensively on modern Russian military history, including A Military History of Russia: From Ivan the Terrible to the War in Chechnya. In this new work, he provides a detailed, fresh account of the Imperial Russian Army during the Great War, where it is generally considered to have performed poorly.

Stone opens with a chapter on Russia’s role in the coming of the war. This is followed by one that offers a profile of the Imperial Army on the eve of the war, nothing that it had several strengths, as well as a good many weaknesses. He then follows the Imperial Army through the years of war.

There are three chapters on Russian campaigns in 1914, the disastrous offensive into East Prussia in 1914 against the Germans, the successful invasion of Galicia against the Austro-Hungarians, and the see-saw campaign in Poland. Then comes a chapter on the severe defeats in the Mausurian Lakes and the Carpathians in 1914-1915, and one on the Russian loss of Poland in 1915. Stone follows these with a chapter on operations in the Caucasus from 1914 through 1917, where the Russians inflicted a series of severe defeats.

Stone then pauses to give us a chapter on Russian society during war, as internal problems began to tear down the Tsarist regime before taking up the very successful Brusilov Offensive of 1916, which was interrupted by collapse of Romania, and then followed by the collapse of Russia itself with the revolutions of 1917.

Despite its flaws, Stone argues that Russian Army managed to survive a series of defeats while inflicting many casualties on its opponents. But he stresses that Russia’s war effort was hampered by the government’s inability to coordinate war production with military needs, curb corruption, and look after the Home Front. Despite this, the army held together rather well until the economy and the political system collapsed into revolution, in part because the Tsar made the fatal error of taking personal command of the Army in the field.

In preparing this book, Stone took advantage of the mountains of archival material that have become available to both Russian and Western scholars since the collapse of the USSR. A volume in the very successful Kansas “Modern War Series", Stone’s work helps clarify the titanic struggle on the Eastern Front.

 

Our Reviewer: Independent scholar Dan David is the author of The 1914 Campaign: August-October, 1914 and numerous reviews and articles. Formerly the manager of Sky Books International, in New York, he is a member of the Board of the New York Military Affairs Symposium, and chairman of the NYMAS Book Awards Committee. His most recent reviews for StrategyPage include Monty's Men: The British Army and the Liberation of Europe, The Edwardian Army: Recruiting. Training. and Deploying the British Army, 1902-1914, The Indian Army on the Western Front, and Gallipoli: Command Under Fire.

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Reviewer: Dan David   


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